A humbling testimonial in the aftermath of typhoon Haiyan

Today I received the most amazing and humbling email and note of thanks I have ever received.

It came from a young Flight Attendant who has attended several of my crew member emergency procedures courses, including aviation first aid training courses over the last 2-3 years, and most recently in October 2013. He says:

I would just like to share some experiences with you over in the Philippines, working with the Philippine Red Cross as a volunteer for the Typhoon Haiyan relief effort. I am from the Philippines myself, and it weighs heavy in my heart.

Had I not been listening to your instruction, I do not believe I would be emailing you now.

First of all, the destruction is still everywhere. Not much has been cleaned up and cleared. It is difficult, and foreign aid has only just (in the last two days) had permission to start using their own machinery to clear. To this day, there are bodies everywhere – many I carried out of the rubble myself. Amazingly, we still pulled out some survivors, and I wanted to share this with you.

I had 3 cases where I had to apply CPR, with 2 survivors and 1 casualty. I had over 20 cases (I lost count) where I had to apply bandages and tourniquets.

The first case of CPR was a man who was trapped in the wreckage of his house. His family were too scared to pull him out; it required a team of volunteers and a forklift (that’s all we had) to get him out. The family fed him and comforted him while he was trapped. When we got him out, he had already lost a lot of blood from a gash in his left inside thigh. Not the artery, thank God, and that was probably what kept him alive.

Our first response was to patch that up. We did so and, as we did, the man entered a state of calm and kind of ‘gave up,’ telling his family he loved them, and not to worry. He went into shock, and stopped breathing. He had a weakening pulse. Now in training, we have a calm environment, even fun at times. But I was not prepared for what happened next. In reality, everyone gets confused and in shock, and just stands there. Nobody knows what to do. I had a mask for CPR, and even through my shock, didn’t know what to do next. I had your DRABC card in my lanyard, and went to work.

You HAVE to take the initiative to start yourself. Nobody else does. So here I am doing compressions, and my mind is making me concentrate so hard that I miscount compressions, and even breaths. 30 seconds takes a lifetime to pass. Nobody wants to help, because the average civilian doesn’t know how. I was doing it myself with no assistance. Eventually, he comes to, but I had to keep reminding myself to keep a clear head amidst all the confusion. That was hard to do. We waited for American medevac, and he lost consciousness twice, but he was stable.

The second instance of CPR was a woman in her 30s who just wasn’t responding. I taught others in my team how and when to do CPR, but we couldn’t save her. I suspected internal bleeding, and we found later that was the case. The severe bruising and her description of the pain couldn’t have told another tale. Before she died, she told us she went to medical tents 4 times, and just received bandages for her superficial wounds. Which leads me to say this: FOLLOW YOUR OWN DIAGNOSIS. If I had encountered her the day before, I would have made sure she went to the appropriate tent. After my attempt with her, a doctor arrived and I finally stopped. She told me I did everything I could. I cried. But I had to accept it.

The last case of CPR was due to dehydration (and maybe a lung infection, we didn’t find out anything else afterwards). Another woman, this time in her 50s. Just collapsed out of nowhere, and stopped breathing. We were well prepared this time, and the emergency teams took over once she was stable.

I think that it would help your students as well if you added a sidenote in training about getting into the right frame of mind. It is hard, and acts like a mental block. You just don’t know what to do next. I wasn’t prepared, and had to steel myself to even begin.

On behalf of myself and everyone whose lives you have made better, I thank you.

I will certainly be taking this young man’s advice and impress on my first aid and EP trainees that ‘real life’ events are shocking and confusing, and that the first thing is to get into the ‘right frame of mind’ and trust the training.

I’m also delighted that the DRABC card he mentions, which every first aid trainee on my courses gets, did its job. Above all, I think I am just very proud of this fine young man, and very humbled to have had even a small part in the recovery efforts from typhoon Haiyan.

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